A fish story
A huge catch captured by a village photographer in 1928.
A record-breaking salmon caught in Muhos weighed 32.6 kilos! More than 50 years later, on 22 December 1981, newspaper Kaleva wrote that the fish had swum into Homa Kotkansalo’s net in the fishing waters of Siliänranta near Päivärinne in 1928. Iivo (left) and Boris, both born and bred in Kotkansalo, are holding perhaps the biggest salmon ever caught in the Oulujoki river. Iivo, who is shorter than the fish, has climbed on top of a wooden box.
Homa Kotkansalo (formerly Foma Sergejev) was born in 1881 in the village of Kokkosalmi, located in the commune of Kestenga in White Karelia. Already while living in his father’s house, he began to fish with modern equipment. Kotkansalo served as the lieutenant commander of the II battalion of the Karelian Liberation Army’s White Karelia Regiment during the East Karelian uprising in 1921–1922. Subsequently, he and his family were forced to move from White Karelia to Finland in 1922. Kotkansalo settled in the village of Laitasaari in Muhos, on the shores of the Oulujoki river. In wintertime, he used to do trading, but in the summer he earned his living by fishing for salmon in a section of Oulujoki that he had leased. In 1943, he moved to Petsamo, where he would go out to the sea to fish.
The photograph of the great catch inevitably brings to mind Hugo Simberg’s painting The Wounded Angel from 1903. The two boys carrying the dead fish on a pole have the same serious faces as the boys carrying the angel on a stretcher. The tail of the fish, like the angel’s white hem, is touching the ground. A bush can be seen in the background, and the composition is the same: the taller boy is on the right and the shorter one on the left. The older boy is looking me straight in the eye.
The photograph was taken by farmer Martti Kesäniemi (b. 1910), who lived in the same village, Laitasaari, as the Kotkansalo family. Kesäniemi was the only person in the village with a camera, and he used it to take pictures at weddings and funerals. The giant salmon from Muhos was captured on a 9 cm x 12 cm glass plate. Kaleva’s collection of newspaper photographs includes a reproduction negative and a print of the picture.
Veikko Lukka, a journalist working for Kaleva, says that Kesäniemi used to develop his photographs himself. Sometimes he would do that in his bedroom with the curtains drawn, at other times in a dark root cellar. Once he even developed a set of school photographs for Melalahti School in Paltamo in a sauna.
Simberg painted his picture of the boys carrying the angel in 1903. It was first put on display at Ateneum’s autumn exhibition in Helsinki that same year. In 1904, Simberg won the state award for visual arts with The Wounded Angel. Later that year, he was also commissioned to decorate St. John's Church in Tampere and painted The Wounded Angel on the wall at the end of the gallery. Perhaps Kesäniemi had sat on the pews in St. John's Church and admired the painting during a Sunday sermon.
Oulujoki was once one of the best salmon rivers in Europe: ‘The salmon used to skip on the surface as if someone was throwing dozens of pebbles into the waves,’ Kesäniemi described the river. Tourists from home and abroad would come there to fish for salmon. However, this all came to an end when eight powerplants were constructed in the Oulujoki river in the 1940s and 1950s. ‘The only thing remaining are the fish stories,’ writes Lukka.
Text: Raija Linna
A record-breaking salmon in Muhos, 1928. Photo: Martti Kesäniemi / Kaleva / Press Photo Archive JOKA (JOKAKAL3B:23481)
The Wounded Angel, 1903. Painting: Hugo Simberg / Ahlström´s collection / The Finnish National Gallery